Religious Right Role In Election Should Not Be Exaggerated, Says Americans United

Movement Won Some Races, But Also Suffered Major Defeats, Church-State Watchdog Group Notes In Report

The results from Tuesday's election show a mixed performance by the Religious Right, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

An Americans United report on the election results shows that the Religious Right played a part in Republican candidate George W. Bush's vote total. However, given the narrow difference between Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore, it will probably never be determined whether the movement played a definitive role.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn noted that Bush did not embrace the Religious Right's agenda during the campaign, and that at the GOP convention in Philadelphia, no speakers from Religious Right organizations were given prominent roles.

"Bush ran as a moderate conservative and rarely raised Religious Right themes during his campaign," said Lynn. "I expect groups like the Christian Coalition to claim credit for Bush's success, however, and they will want a payoff for their support.

"The Religious Right is not in the driver's seat, but they are definitely in the car and will undoubtedly make frequent attempts to grab the steering wheel," said Lynn. "The Religious Right clearly remains a significant player in national politics, but its role should not be exaggerated."

AU's report focuses on contested federal and state races where the Religious Right played a significant role. Before the election, AU research staff identified key races where the candidate emphasized Religious Right themes or received donations or other support from the movement.

The report found that the Religious Right fared poorly in many statewide contests. In seven of eight Senate races, Religious Right allies lost. In three key gubernatorial races, candidates aligned with the Religious Right also failed. The movement did better in U.S. House races, with Religious Right candidates winning two-thirds of the 21 contests examined in the report.

Some notable Religious Right losses included:

* The defeat of Sen. John Ashcroft in Missouri. Ashcroft, a staunch Religious Right activist, is the architect of "charitable choice," a plan to give religious groups tax funds for providing social services.

* The defeat of U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.). Dickey has close ties to Religious Right organizations and earlier this year hosted a "pastors summit" for evangelical ministers in Washington. (Missouri candidate William J. Federer, who sought support from the Christian Coalition in his challenge to House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, also lost.)

* The victory of Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York's Senate race. Although Clinton opponent Rick Lazio ran as a moderate, Christian Coalition activists supported him because of their antipathy toward the First Lady.

* The defeat of GOP North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot, who frequently raised Religious Right themes during his campaign. Religious Right gubernatorial candidates also lost in Missouri and Indiana.

* The overwhelming defeat of school voucher referenda in California and Michigan. Both measures were backed by Religious Right groups, but voters soundly defeated both schemes.

Concluded AU's Lynn, "Reports of the Religious Right's death have been greatly exaggerated. Those of us who consider this movement deeply misguided have our work cut out for us."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.